Yesterday—deep in the woods of the Olympic National Park—I found a little part of myself.
I’ve been lost for a while. Maybe you know the feeling. The uncertainty that comes when life turns upside down and the memory of who you were before slips away like dreams in the morning.
I was healthy…then I wasn’t.
I never thought about my breathing…then I thought about it often.
I was enthusiastic and full of energy…then I couldn’t remember what that felt like.
I didn’t forget who I was overnight. The loss was almost imperceptible. Faint moments of forgetting replaced by whatever pressing matter was at hand. Old thoughts replaced by new concerns, bigger concerns.
I know you used to do that…but NOW you do this.
I used to hang out with friends…now my social calendar included my doctors.
Stumbling across little bits of me was a process. Wandering down the trail I saw myself scattered like rose petals dropped carefully by a flower girl. A little here. A little there. I had not lost myself all at once. It made sense that I wouldn’t find myself all at once either.
It started in the ranger station parking lot.
- The familiar confidence of my hiking boots.
- The daypack with enough water and snacks.
- The extra Ziploc of emergency essentials—a pocket knife, small flashlight, a lighter, and a small first aid kit among other things.
My first step on the trail was a moment of pride.
Oh yes, I remember now. This is who I am.
I picked up that part of me and made space for it in my pack.
Further down the trail, my feet falling into comfortable cadence, my breath escaped. This part was New Me. Short-of-breath-me. Can’t-quite-get-a-full-breath-in-damnit-me.
New Me—like a needy child—asserted herself and announced, “I’m here too! And I’ve been here awhile, so don’t go hiking off without me!”
So I told Old Me, “Hold on a minute. New Me needs some attention.”
And I slowed down a little and fought the short of breath, incomplete feeling. Then I kept hiking. I have this place to myself.
After 15 minutes, the trail begins to climb. Nothing drastic, but enough to make my thighs start to burn and send my pulse to thumping. The nature worship of only minutes earlier is not replaced with Ok, just get to that point up there and you can rest.
Soon, the trail levels out and I find myself again at the top. I see the Oh yes, I can do this. I remember this. I put that part of me in the pack and keep hiking. My photos along the way are my proof that I did this. They are my evidence that I remember Old Me.
This trail, this green and mossy trail, with its Douglas Firs and Cedars standing protectively nearby, is my last 7 years. And I am back.
I am humming Stephen Sondheim’s closing song to his musical Into the Woods. All respect to Steve, I claimed the lyrics as I hiked. He must have known my story.
The way is dark,
The light is dim,
But now there’s you, me, her, and him.
The chances look small,
The choices look grim,
But everything you learn there
Will help when you return there…
Into the woods–you have to grope,
But that’s the way you learn to cope.
Into the woods to find there’s hope
Of getting through the journey.
I’m not the same me now as I was before all of this started.
But we’re in the same neck of the woods.